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We are a cross-party, member-led network, providing a single voice for our member councils


Published: 14 October 2020


Moves to create supersize councils would be “the greatest act of municipal vandalism in living memory” and mean local government “would cease to exist”, a new independent report on council reorganisation reveals today.

It comes ahead of the Government’s forthcoming Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper, and amid reports that a number of county councils want to abolish local district councils to create some of the single largest councils in the western world.

The report, Bigger is not better, the case for keeping ‘local’ government, by Professor Colin Copus, Professor Steve Leach, and Associate Professor Alistair Jones at De Montfort University, also demonstrates that the search for an ideal sized council is a pointless equivalent “search for the Philosopher’s Stone”.

It concludes that English councils are already the largest in the western world, and creating even larger councils would risk fuelling public distrust in government by watering down their voice on critical doorstep services like waste and planning.

The report also demonstrates how bigger councils are not necessarily better or more efficient, but risk delivering less responsive services through remote bureaucracies that could be similar in size to some small countries and US or German states.

The report provides a rigorous assessment of over 300 pieces of independent research from around the world and is conclusive that:

• Larger councils lead to falling public trust, falling engagement, and a reduced sense of belonging to their local area and council.
• Size of councils does not make a difference in quality or efficiency of services

The public have always remained resistant to losing control to larger councils, as they consistently vote against their creation in local referendums.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN), which represents 187 councils, is warning that now is not the time to get bogged down in reorganising local government, which will distract from the efforts to beat the pandemic and drive the local recovery.

Commenting on the report, Cllr John Fuller OBE, Chairman of the District Councils’ Network, said:

“COVID-19 has shown that bigger or cheaper local government is not better local government, and as this revealing report shows, larger councils would wipe local government as we know it off the map altogether.

“Devolution has to be about decisions being taken at the level closest to the people affected by those decisions, not centralising them into administrations with populations way over a million people, and across geographies almost as large as Northern Ireland.

“Right now, in the midst of an international health and economic crisis, we must be focused on recovery, not reorganisation.

“This means protecting communities from COVID-19, and enabling them to bounce back achieving jobs and growth, and using devolution to empower local responses around the towns and cities where people live and businesses prosper.”

1. Secretary of State statement yesterday on inviting Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and Somerset, including associated existing unitary councils, to submit proposals for moving to unitary local government https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2020-10-12/hcws502

2. The District Councils’ Network (DCN) is a cross-party member led network providing a single voice to 187 district councils. District councils in England deliver 86 out of 137 essential local government services to over 22 million people – 40 per cent of the population – and cover 68 per cent of the country by area. They play a key role in local communities, providing services such as building homes, collecting waste, regenerating town centres, preventing homelessness, keeping streets clean and maintaining parks.

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